Sez here in my notes that this issue of Comics Buyers Guide is saluting Will Eisner. Well, who better? Mr. Eisner
long ago set a high standard for comic art and has consistently met or bettered it.
This even applies to the work he is presently doing, at an age where another creator might be resting on the beach and/or his
laurels. At this stage of stage of his career and life, some of us would be satisfied just to see him write or draw anything at all. I
mean, did anyone think that those last few Sinatra CDs were wonderful? That they featured him in good voice?
Of course not...but he was Sinatra. A lot of folks wanted to applaud him, if not for his current efforts, then for the better
work that the current efforts kinda resembled. And even diminished Sinatra was not without its worth.
A "License to Coast" is not necessary with the graphic novels Will Eisner is now producing. We ain't buying 'em, applauding 'em,
or voting 'em awards because he used to be good. He's still good...on many levels, better than ever.
What a joy to see a mature talent, fully in control of all aspects of the work. At first, when he began doing books like A
Contract With God for Kitchen Sink, I must admit I did not like the lettering. He does it himself and I hope he will forgive me if I say
that Will Eisner the letterer is not in the same league as Will Eisner, the writer-artist.
However, as his work has grown more personal, I have come to feel it would be a shame if any hand but his were in evidence on the
pages...and I suspect it would inhibit his creativity to have that happen. Some artists simply do their best when they can just sit down and do
it at their own pace and in their own way, without making allowances for others.
The following statement is not hyperbole: I genuinely believe that Will Eisner, in his eighties, is producing fresher, more innovative
work than 90-some percent of those who fall under the general category of New Talent. Or as Frank Miller so eloquently puts it, "Will's still
kicking all our butts."
It is also wonderful to see a talented comic creator telling stories that he wants to tell, with no concession to aping his past
successes or filling someone's notion of what is allegedly commercial. Would that more of comics' great writers and artists had this
I wanted to devote this entire column to Will Eisner, just because he's Will Eisner...but really, the above is darn near all I have to
say on the subject.
So instead, I've decided to fill out my Will Eisner column (and next week's POV, as well) with excerpts from a panel I moderated at the
1999 San Diego Comic-Con International. Thanks to Jon B. Knutson for the fine transcription job. Blame me for the edits.
The main spotlight was on Chuck Cuidera, who was attending his first-ever convention...but we prevailed on Mr. Eisner to participate
and he eagerly agreed. The mutual affection between two artists who hadn't seen each other in almost a half-century should be evident to
M.E.: As most of you know, a lot of the Golden Age professionals who grace your San Diego Con appear because of Dave Siegel,
Tracer of Lost Artists. Dave can find anyone and get them here. There are dead artists who will show up if Dave puts his mind to it.
Last November or so, I was talking to Dave on the phone and I said, "You know, it's too bad we can't get Chuck Cuidera out for these
conventions, but nobody seems to know where he is! I tried to find him when I was doing Blackhawk and nobody had an address for
And Dave said, "Oh, I'll look around." He called me back twenty minutes later and said, "Just got off the phone with Chuck
Anyway, I am pleased to introduce the gentleman on my left, who got into comics about the time comics first crawled out of the
primordial ooze onto land. He had an awful lot to do with setting the whole look and feel of Quality Comics in general, and he is the man who
started Blackhawk. Please welcome to the San Diego Convention, Mr. Chuck Cuidera. (applause)
CUIDERA: Thank you, thank you. Thank you very much.
M.E.: And on my right — a gentleman who, like they say, needs no introduction...a gentleman who's been a major inspiration
for comic artists throughout this century, and the way he's going, it looks like the next as well — Mr. Will Eisner. (applause)
All right, Chuck, what year did you get out of Pratt Institute?
M.E.: And what did you want to do for a living?
CUIDERA: I wanted to be a good illustrator and painter. (laughter)
M.E.: And what stopped you from doing this immediately?
CUIDERA: Well, we were just coming out of the depression, and I think comic books were just starting, and the man on your right
here, he started it all! (laughter)
M.E.: That's right. So a friend of yours told you about comic books?
CUIDERA: Right. I had one of my first encounters with comic books, working for Fox Features. I did one called The
Blue Beetle, and I think some of these old-timers will remember that.
M.E.: Now, let's straighten this out for some people who are confused about the various Charles Nicholases of our business.
Your full name is...
CUIDERA: Charles Nicholas Cuidera.
M.E.: Now, you signed The Blue Beetle...
CUIDERA: Charles Nicholas.
M.E.: But there was another Charles Nicholas, later in the business...
CUIDERA: Him, I don't remember.
EISNER: Charles Wojtkowski.
M.E.: Okay, and he took the name Charles Nicholas.
EISNER: We had a whole bunch of phony names like Chuck's. We just handed them out with the salary. (laughter) There
was a period in comics beginning with the middle to late 30s, when none of the artists owned their own drawings. They were hired by the
publishers — [Harry] Donenfeld, Martin Goodman, people like that. To protect themselves against a potential lawsuit, they used what the
pulp magazines used...a thing called a house name. A fake name. So the publishers not only owned the comic strip, they owned the name [of
the creator], therefore the guy working for them couldn't lay a claim.
That's how the name "Charles Nicholas" started. Everybody in the business — particularly the guys who were very Jewish or
very Italian — changed their names. Bob Powell, was really Stanislaus Kowalski. There was another kid named Jacob Kurtzberg who
worked in one of my shops. What happened to him? (laughter)
[Victor] Fox ran a real wild establishment. He would assign names. Fox was like an Edward G. Robinson kind of guy, he ran
around the shop, and he had delusions of grandeur.
CUIDERA: ...though he was a very smart guy. He taught me a lot about business.
EISNER: He went bankrupt four times. He once said to me, "Kid, if you go bankrupt, go big!" (laughter) And he
did! He went bankrupt once for $400,000, most of it owed to the paper house! It was so much money that the paper house financed him to
get back in the business so they could recover the $400,000 he owed! (laughter)
CUIDERA: I worked for Fox. One day, Joe Simon and [Jack] Kirby said, "You'd better look for another job, because this guy's
going to wind up in jail!" (laughter) My alumni, Bob Powell, called me up and said, "The editor here likes your stuff, and he'll double your
salary!" Which I never did get! (laughter)
EISNER: He worked for my shop for a while there. What happened was, to give you some background on what Chuck is telling
you, in 1939, the Register-Tribune came in. They were in partnership with "Busy" Arnold, who had a line of comic books. He asked
me to produce a comic magazine section for the newspapers so we created a series of characters. We had a knock-down drag-out match over
ownership. I ended up owning my property, but in exchange for that, they said, "You can do two comic magazines, too." I did Police
Comics and Uncle Sam Comics.
So in 1939, I sold my half of the business to [Jerry] Iger, and moved to Tudor City and I thought, "Boy, I'm in the big-time
now." We had a two-room apartment. We had Tex Blaisdell, Lou Fine, David Berg, Chuck Mazoujian — he did "Lady Luck" — Bob
You'll remember, Chuck, you were there the day Tex Blaisdell arrived with a young kid — a 12-13 year old kid — and he said,
"This kid wants to be a cartoonist. Can he hang around in the afternoons here?" Chuck was the tough guy in the shop. He was like
the shop steward with opinions that shook walls! (laughter) I think Chuck or somebody said, "Well, if he can sweep up." The kid's name
was Joe Kubert. Whatever happened to him? (laughter)
M.E.: What did Will put you to work on when you got there? What was the first thing you did?
CUIDERA: Well, I did more of The Spirit than I did of Blackhawk! (laughter)
EISNER: Absolutely. I'd like to say something, Mark, because this is heading into that. I've been wanting to say this
for a long time, because I've done conventions a lot, and there's been a lot of talk about who invented what. It's not important who created
it...it's the guy who kept it going, and made something out if it that's more important. Whether or not Chuck Cuidera created or thought of
Blackhawk to begin with is unimportant. The fact that Chuck Cuidera made Blackhawk what it was is the important thing, and
therefore, he should get the credit. (applause)
M.E.: (To audience:) And how many times on these panels have you seen people give each other credit? (laughter) Okay,
Chuck, so now you were working on The Spirit. Did you pencil?
CUIDERA: No. Will in the beginning would not let anybody touch the figures. I did all his backgrounds...most of the
time. Correct, Will?
EISNER: That's right.
CUIDERA: I did one story, I think, about a ship, and I did the figures. He's the guy who started it all, that guy next to
me. Believe me.
EISNER: The memories I have...I haven't seen this guy for forty years. One of the things you're witnessing here, that's so
important, is to see these guys talking to each other. It's very hard for us to lie to each other! (laughter)
Shop talk is a wonderful thing. You sit around the shop, and you find you can't lie, because you're going to be there the next
day. (laughter) We were sitting in the shop in Tudor City, and my office was the bedroom of a two-room apartment. Chuck sticks his head
in the door, and says, "Hey, boss, I'm going to call you boss." It wasn't a sign of respect. It was kind of an accusation!
(laughter) And then he said, "Hey, boss, I want to talk to you about something. I've got an inker for us."
He opens the door and there's this trembling kid standing there with a portfolio. He showed me his artwork, and my God, this guy
could ink! I said to Chuck, "He's good, Chuck!" We'll start him on Monday."
Chuck says, "No, he can't do that. He's got to start right now! He's working for Harry Chesler" — whom we referred to
as "Harry Chiseler." We sat the kid down at my drawing board and put him to work while Chuck went back to Chesler's office, got the kid's
overcoat, pencils and stuff like that, and smuggled them out! (laughter)
This frightened little kid is sitting there trembling, and I said, "What's your name?"
And he says, "My name is Alex Kotzky."
[M.E. Note: One of comics' great stylists, Alex Kotzky is best remembered for his work on the newspaper strip,
Apartment 3-G. And
by the way, if you didn't get the joke about Jacob Kurtzberg, Mr. Kurtzberg might be better known to you under the name
of Jack Kirby.]
M.E.: Chuck, at this point, were you saying to yourself, "I'm going to stay in comics for a while?"
CUIDERA: I had a brand-new baby girl, and it was like a salvation to work on comics. Will was the guy responsible for the
comics, not only for us, but for a lot of other people that are in the business today, because of him.
M.E.: But at this point, did you say, "I'm going to say in comics. I'm not going to go out and be a portrait painter,
M.E.: Who at this point influenced your artwork? Obviously, Will was an inspiration...
CUIDERA: As far as the comics were, you had Milton Caniff, who influenced me, and Alex Raymond, and Hal Foster...Hal Foster was
my god. He did a book on animals. Unbelievable.
M.E.: Did you learn a lot from the other guys in the shop?
CUIDERA: Oh, sure. I learned a lot from Will Eisner.
M.E.: How about Lou Fine?
CUIDERA: Yes, Lou Fine was very good. He influenced a lot of us, including Will Eisner! (laughter)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: How much did you make back then?
EISNER: Don't tell him! (laughter)
M.E.: You felt you were living pretty good at that point?
CUIDERA: Oh, yeah. My father had two brothers, and they were both going to be doctors, and they both quit and became
detectives in New Jersey. He used to make fun of me, but when I started doing comics, I was making more money than they did!
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Without getting into actual salary figures, did you guys pay by the page, or was it a salary?
M.E.: How much work did you have to do a week? How many pages?
CUIDERA: Well, one of the requirements was that we did a full page every day. I tried to keep up on that score, more or
less. Sometimes I did two or three but when I worked on The Spirit during the day, it was all-day, and I had to do my Blackhawk
M.E.: Now, let's get to Blackhawk here...
No...on second thought, let's not get to Blackhawk here. That's a great place for a cliff-hanger so let's end it
there for this week.
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